David Emmanuel aka Smiley Culture, born 10 February 1963, died prematurely on March 15 2011

With the recent death of British reggae singer Smiley Culture real name David Emmanuel after a police raid of his home, and the death of Kingsley Burrell Brown in police custody there has been a new focus on black deaths in police custody by the families of victims and campaigners.

Forty-eight year-old David Emmanuel who went under the artist name Smiley Culture is best known for his 1980s reggae hit, ‘Police Officer‘, a song about how he was caught in possession of cannabis by a police officer who let him off after he recognised the reggae star.

It is ironic, that a police officer in the 80s, the era of the Brixton riots when the black community rebelled against police racism and violence would let a black man off. Today, the chances of that happening are very slim. The police force has been rocked with racism allegations and the relations between the police and the black community is at an all time low.

Police officers raided Emmanuel’s home on Tuesday, 15 March, in Warlingham, Surrey to carry out an arrest warrant where they claimed that an incident occurred resulting in Emmanuel sustaining a stab wound through his heart.

Emmanuel’s family say that the police informed them that he had stabbed himself whilst making a cup of tea, but the family refuses to accept this explanation, employing an independent pathologist to carry out a postmortem on his body in order to determine the truth.

Emmanuel’s nephew spoke at a public meeting in Brixton, saying:

As a family, we are in a state of deep sorrow and anger. My uncle was a father, an uncle, a friend and a mentor to many and is a British icon who died under the most peculiar of circumstances. This is not a race issue, although there are suspicions that ethnicity has some relevance in this tragic event. This is a time when the whole British public will stand up to let the police and government know that we will no longer allow any citizen to die in the most bizarre of circumstances. Instead, we will seek the truth, doggedly, until that truth has been exposed.” (Guardian: Smiley Culture died from single stab wound to heart, postmortem finds: Amelia Hill: Thursday, 17 March, 2011)

According to the Guardian report four police officers arrived at Emmanuel’s home and an hour and a half later, just before 8.30am he was dead when an air ambulance arrived at the scene. The police claim that Emmanuel went into his kitchen where he took a knife and stabbed himself, but his family and black community leaders believe that this explanation is contradictory.

Lee Jasper, chair of the London race and criminal justice consortium, said “Why, if Smiley was arrested, was he allowed to go near a kettle full of boiling water and drawers full of knives? It just doesn’t make sense.”

The case has been referred to the Independent Police Complaint Commission (IPCC).

According to the Guardian report Emmanuel was in court in September last year charged with conspiracy to supply cocaine, he was due to appear in court again in a few days time, but a relative dismissed any claims that he had taken his own life as a result of his pending court case.

Merlin Emmanuel said that Smiley and his legal team were confident of winning the case and had no reason to be depressed.

Another recent black death in police custody

Another black death in the last couple of weeks have raised the profile of black campaigners who for years have been calling for independent public enquiries into the number of black people who die in police custody.

Twenty-nine year-old Kingsley Burrell Brown was walking with his 5 year-old son in Birmingham on March 27, when he felt unsafe, after calling police they arrived and claimed he was acting paranoid. They then detained him under the Mental Health Act taking him to Oleaster Mental Health Unit where he was sectioned. His son claims that the police beat his father on the way to the unit. Kingsley’s sister, Kadisha Brown said that he has no history of mental illness and that when she insisted on seeing him he had “…three massive bumps and a swelling to the head and the brain.” (Socialist Worker: Justice for Smiley Culture: Say no to more police cover-ups: Patrick Ward: 16 April 2011)

Kingsley was transferred to the mental health day care centre, Mary Seacole House, and on the 30 March police were called over an incident which involved Kingsley. He was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for injuries where he died on Thursday evening, March 31.

Again the IPCC will be carrying out an investigation into the events but already the family have criticised the IPCC for failing to include the fact that he was sectioned on the day he called police for help.

Hundreds of protesters turned up at the Millennium Centre in Birmingham demanding answers from the police and Smiley Culture’s nephew urged everyone to attend the March for Human Rights on Saturday, 16 April to Scotland Yard. Coaches will be available to bring people from Birmingham to the march in London.

Black lives are in danger in police custody

A new report by the IPCC has revealed the disturbing number of black people who die in police custody. The 105 page report titled, ‘Deaths in or following police custody: An examination of the cases 1998/99 – 2008/09 reveals an alarming trend of black deaths in police custody.

It was found that 68% of people who died in police custody were arrested for non violent offences. There was a breach of police procedure in 27% of cases and that people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were more likely to be restrained whilst in police custody than whites.

In an article on the Black Mental Health UK website, Zephaniah Samuels (3 December 2010: IPCC report highlights need for action over deaths in police custody) said, “This report shows that over one-third of cases in which a Black detainee died occurred in circumstances in which police actions may have been a factor, this rises to almost one-half if the cases of accidental death where the police were present compared with only 4% of cases where the detainee was White.

The report is clear, black lives are in danger in police custody and the death of Smiley Culture and Kingsley Brown highlights an immediate concern for the black community to organise and put pressure on the government, police and mental health services.

There is an equally important argument which suggests that racism in British society contributes to this trend of black deaths in police custody.

BME health experts said, “ Previous research studies have shown that Black people are more likely to be perceived as dangerous, more likely to be brought into hospital by the police under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983, even when they agree to voluntary treatment, more likely to be detained under Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Act, more likely to be prescribed higher doses as well as older forms of medication, and major tranquillisers, more likely to be kept in secure, locked wards, less likely to receive anti-depressants and non-drug therapies…” (BME-Response-to-Draft-Mental-Health-Bill-sept-02-1)

The quote from the health experts says it all, racism is systematically resulting in many members of the black and minority ethnic communities being sectioned by organisations with internal systemic problems regarding racism.

The fight against these forms of institutional racism towards black and minority ethnic communities will not just be against mental health services and the police, but all the way to parliament where the laws are created which continues to discriminate against black and minority ethnic communities. This is why we should never forget that the black deaths in police custody reminds us that the battle against racism has not ended.

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4 thought on “Black deaths in police custody: We should never forget”
  1. All deaths in custody are a tragedy no matter what the creed or colour of the victim, however to suggest that minority groups are more at risk of death in custody is wholly misleading, 75% of deaths in custody are of white people.

  2. Hi Chris,

    I agree that all deaths in police custody is a tragedy no matter what the race of the individual, however in the article that I wrote I quoted the Independent Police Complaint Commission 105 page report which examined cases between 1998-99 up to 2008-09. In this report race is emphasised as a major factor in death-related custody. It also found that individuals from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely to be restrained whilst in police custody than whites. I believe this report speaks for itself regarding the disproportionate number of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds who die in police custody. There is nothing misleading in the article whatsoever.

  3. mym,

    The Western media would have people believe that apart from a few isolated incidents racism is a thing of the past which is why many race stories are either ignored or buried as news. The real picture, with the example you have provided here is very ugly.

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